Blood debts in Familial Guise
From my first few steps across the kitchen floor, the three of us had no separation. Even through the years that followed, others could not help but group our likenesses. I am older now; one of us passed on through tears, and her daughter is living longer than she did. I am the last, it seems, until I bear child and God only knows when that time will be.
I remember when young, all the banter of our similarities in countenance and dress. The comparison was so overwhelming that I lost my balance and identity those early years. As I fell down, I grieved for not having my own distinctions and joys to celebrate myself. What I remember of the end of my independent will is happiness wandering about Grandad’s house while playing the social butterfly to family friends. After forgetting my obligations to act “the little host”, I chose to play hide and seek alone in the back hallway. Remembering home base towered behind the kitchen table; I rounded the closet wall, dashed into the dining room, and landed at the feet of my mother and grandmother. Side by side, they leaned over gazing into my face. In the two, looking as one, I saw the years place themselves side by side.
Similarities became more profound as I grew older. Through high school, I looked at photographs from old albums. I stared at mom, Granma, and me from different joys and family passions. It took years well after college, but I finally saw the wells beneath eyes and curves of hips that would form into what I would look like come age thirty, forty, and eventually fifty-something.
I must tell you, some curves came from my father’s mother. Every time I saw her, once every five to ten years, the curve was her insistence that I looked like her aunt and sister. The cheekbones were telling. The first time I remember grandmother pinching my cheek and creating a curve with of her palm to bounce beneath the short curls of my hair. That afternoon she claimed me into that side of the family. That defense of a blood claim became the glue that kept her close in my mind even when the physical distance of family became reality. This was long after my mother’s divorce from my biological father. Truly, when mom and dad where done, someone may have symbolically offered me into the cracks of the judicial system. However, the chill of a filing, divorce does not end the heat of blood relations; it just means a regular switch-up come Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. It meant I might forget who I am in the milieu. It may mean some topics are silent until long after their divorce or after resolving struggles well into my sixtieth year. Still, know my father’s family speaks my name aloud and claim me as their own. This claiming is as comfortable to my soul as Saturday night homily.
Thanks to grandmother, I know that I did not hatch from an egg. I also know that I am not an orphan. Even the small absurdities and fears from pre-pubescent childhood hold weight and shape. Conquering my lingering fears from then is worthy of a knight’s tale to begin. Still, carving swords and minding the poor calls for a bravery that I just cannot sense in my bones just yet.
What I know now is that belonging comes from blood. Even though DNA is the determination in the science of it all, it cannot be the whole reason behind building our clans around foreign fires. Blood sings of itself in every droplet. Family spirits and distant ancestors dwell there as well. Blood sins make us all libel to an older word and sound of guidance. For now, knowing blood means not just having my grandfather’s button nose, my father’s hair, or my mother’s gait that shows me I have a place at a larger table. That hum I hear with every cut and bruise calls me to sit and listen to memory.
A problem for me is that mom does not hear it. I wonder if some days I depend too much on her judgment. How do I know? Her reactions upon being questioning for an explanation resonate deep. What I have received is a strange look out of the corner of her eyes. Another issue to consider is that her mother is not alive to ask. As for other relatives, I am staid in the fact that if I have to explain and defend blood song then they are truly without a clue. To correct that failing, I will practice by explaining to you.
A former mentor and I sat on the floor of the living room at her temporary residence. Conversation was born mostly from her mouth and with every turn of phrase, I was learning new concepts. After lunch, the casting sunlight in the living room shifted past artwork in reflecting glass and she said looking directly in my face, that blood rings out in sound not just for tonality, but musically. If the telling starts there, then you know the aroma of blood tells a story of its own. The story is so distinct that it tells nuances that genealogist could never flesh out with as much accuracy. Mentor said there are those that read blood for histories, heritage, strength, and temperament. Understanding her, she intimated that if we listen with intent and respect we can hear clearly, what graveyards only whisper. However my curiosities, she did not prick my finger, but looked into my flushed face to tell me who my people were and from whence they travelled. After listening intently, I, over 2,000 miles away from my heritage home, became dumbfounded. Doubt faded and I finally conceded to open my ears to let every word fall on my head and heart. Humming is all I remember hearing as I left the house that late afternoon. All the whispers about “the store” doubting mentor’s talent and integrity quickly left my mind. The time for defending her was over. Now I knew that her reserve and distance from me in public heeded swells of emotion, knowledge, and wisdom that could only be shared in quiet seclusion. There was no need of a proving ground or repeated challenges; she moved within her power and no amount of reason could deny that.
As for blood, every drop is important.
Since mentor, I know it is nothing that I can waste.
In my mouth now, are faint tastes of salt.
Jehovah’s witnesses forbid blood transfusions. Mormons may speak of blood sin, blood debt, and blood poisonings and for me they are all too elusive to expand upon. I thought I read once that the spirit in the blood is unique to us all; it is cannot spilled on the ground or be left for waste. I remained in fear during my youth about having to die because I would have to refuse a blood transfusion. Eventually I took my confusion to task and walked away from that faith out of practicality and survival. Up to the point of leaving, the fear had swelled in my bone. Fleeting visions from memory say I came to hate my blood shortly after the call to womanhood. To me, menses was my enemy. It was not until college where I became determined to subdue the pain, frustration, and burgeoning self-hatred for being female.
The doctor came back into the waiting room to talk to me. The Pap smear was painful and I was not very receptive to anything she had to say. I wanted out- out of the room, out of the office, out of this unsaid contract of being female. Sitting across from the doctor, I hunched over in the chair and began to wring my fingers around my wrists. It was one last attempt for help: so I answered her questions and waited to ask my own. The opening came and I asked her about blood. I wanted so badly to know why the smell was so bad. I wanted to know why there was so much blood some nights. Lastly, I cried, “why, oh why won’t the pain leave?” I finally told her that I could not stand the sight of my blood and she backed off. The doctor-patient conversation suddenly ended. The room turned cold and I drew back into the chair and became quiet. After that, the memory ends.
Years went by before I understood the blessing of blood flow. Cleansing, tuning senses, and childbirth, are but a few of the many accomplishments of womanhood. In that growth, I carry on that visage of mother, Grandma, and me. If I ever bear, I know my current and distant histories will read in the blood. My child will know the reasons for self-rejection and have counseling to meet the rigor of life passages. I can say with honesty and won reserve that the terrors of youth and their shadows end at the acceptance of a physical body, a dedication to preserve life, and living a bloodline commensurate with its wisdom.
©N.A. Jones 2016 All Rights Reserved